The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 1 is a large, landscape-orientated oil painting depicting an area of bushes and trees in the foreground and a large body of water beyond them. It is painted in a loose, impressionistic style and dominated by grey tones, although the tree trunks are black and the areas of foliage have been executed using many small dark red and pale green dots in a pointillist style. The foreground is divided into diagonal rows, possibly representing separate gardens. The trees appear to have relatively thin trunks and branches, which curve in different directions and sometimes tangle together. While some are represented with sharp lines, others comprise thin, sweeping strokes. On the right is a small jetty that reaches into the water, with three birds perched above it. The water appears very still and no boats are visible. The painting’s upper half is dominated by a grey sky, with some earthy brown and pale pinkish-orange tones subtly worked into it. The moon is visible in the sky, suggesting that this may be an evening or night scene, and some lights and other hints of a populated area are dimly discernible on the horizon.
This painting was made by the British artist Victor Pasmore between 1944 and 1947. It depicts a view from his back garden in Hammersmith, south London, which bordered onto the River Thames. The canvas was first shown with the title Moonrise in a 1945 exhibition staged by the London Group – an organisation that arranged shows of modern art in Britain at the time – but Pasmore reworked the painting considerably into its present state during 1946 and 1947. It is unvarnished and has a carved, gilded frame.
This is one of a number of paintings Pasmore made during the mid- to late 1940s that depict gardens and the river around his house in Hammersmith (see, for example, Riverside Gardens, Hammersmith c.1944, Arts Council Collection, London). These all feature an impressionistic style and are dominated by grey tones. While earlier works in this group were purely based on direct observations of the area, according to the catalogue for Pasmore’s 1965 Tate Gallery retrospective The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 1 was ‘partly done from drawings and partly made up’ (Tate Gallery 1965, unpaginated). In 1949 Pasmore produced a related work called The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 2 (Tate T07033), which depicts a more tightly cropped scene showing similar rows of gardens containing trees and bushes, and executed using the same pointillist technique of colour application. The later painting’s relative lack of contextual cues makes it appear more abstract than The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 1. The suffix ‘No. 1’ seems to have been added to the title of this work sometime after 1965 to distinguish it from the later painting.
As well as the scene’s location, the title of this painting makes reference to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, now widely considered to be mythical. Pasmore may have been using this reference to praise Hammersmith’s environs, although the understated, even slightly drab nature of his scene might make the comparison seem humorous.
In the year after he made this work Pasmore began to produce abstract paintings, after which he worked primarily as an abstract artist throughout the rest of his career. The critic Jasia Reichardt has argued that this painting and other riverscapes from the period foreshadow that development, since they evidence a ‘drastic simplification of forms’ wherein ‘shapes seen through the mist become not a group of trees, but a pattern’ and the background is reduced to ‘a colour plane’ (Reichardt 1962, unpaginated). Regarding the development of this particular painting, the 1965 Tate Gallery catalogue notes that ‘At one point the composition was a good deal more abstracted, with a grid of vertical lines in the foreground and a more intricate arrangement of branches on the left’ (Tate Gallery 1965, unpaginated). This suggests that Pasmore may have been experimenting with abstraction while making this painting – perhaps when in its earlier incarnation as Moonrise – but drew back towards representation as he completed it.
In 1945 Pasmore stated that ‘All nature is a harmony of opposites and art, therefore, a matter of question and answer. Dark is answered by light, red by green, the straight line by the curved line, the solid by the liquid ... symmetry by variety ... By combining one with the other and setting one off against the other harmony is obtained’ (quoted in Grieve 2010, p.36). Several of these oppositions appear in this painting, including a combination of red and green paint and the juxtaposition of straight rows with curved, tangled branches. Reichardt has argued that the pointillist technique used here, which is common across Pasmore’s riverscapes of the period, creates ‘a lyrical contrast with ... [the paintings’] more formal elements’, such as the geometric rows (Reichardt 1962, unpaginated).
Jasia Reichardt, Victor Pasmore, London 1962.
Victor Pasmore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1965, unpaginated, reproduced.
Alistair Grieve, Victor Pasmore, London 2010, p.40, reproduced p.42.
Supported by Christie’s.